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Graham Mertz-first spring

University of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz throws a pass during spring practice.

Danny Vanden Boom doesn't use social media. Sure, the University of Wisconsin sophomore quarterback once created accounts on Twitter, Instagram and the like, but those apps have since been deleted.

That didn't stop him from hearing all about Graham Mertz long before the Overland Park, Kan., native joined his position group as an early enrollee in January.

Mertz came to Madison as perhaps the most hyped recruit in UW history, fresh off an MVP performance at the U.S. Army All-American game and a state-record 51 touchdown passes for state finalist Blue Valley North High last season.

Whether it came from social media, friends or anyone else, Vanden Boom and the rest of the Badgers weren't likely to avoid the build-up of Mertz's arrival.

"Everybody talked about Graham coming in," Vanden Boom said. "It's just, there's a buzz, and I understand why there's a buzz. He's very physically gifted. He's really off to a good start learning the playbook. He's rolling."

Mertz isn't UW's top quarterback this spring and certainly wouldn't be entirely ready to take the field at this moment, but he's far from your typical true freshman quarterback. He's even already recognized by other students on campus.

He's taken roughly the same amount of reps this spring as Vanden Boom and redshirt freshman Chase Wolf, while junior Jack Coan, who started four games last season, has earned the bulk of first-team opportunities.

Mertz's arm talent isn't difficult to see, though. He's enjoyed bright moments throughout the six practices open to the media, and he's the only quarterback to lead multiple touchdown drives over UW's three scrimmage periods.

"My biggest thing is just the mental game - knowing where I'm going with the ball every play and being decisive with it," Mertz said. "... You've got to have an answer for every coverage, every play. That's definitely the biggest thing."

Mertz said he's been introduced to "pretty much the whole (playbook)" at this point, and he's still becoming more familiar with the Badgers' quarterback signals. Coan has often helped him coming out of huddles during scrimmages.

Other early enrollee quarterbacks during Paul Chryst's tenure as head coach haven't received the amount of team-drill work in their first spring as Mertz, and he appears to be picking things up rather quickly for someone young enough to still be a senior in high school.

"He has stepped up into the offense better than I could expect," Wolf said, "He showed confidence when he's out there, and he's just really talented. I think the thing about him is he's very confident in his ability, and that has led to him having some good drives out here and to have a great spring practice."

Of course, Mertz hasn't been immune to poor decisions during his first few practices. He's gifted fellow early enrollee Leo Chenal with two interceptions and thrown the ball late to open receivers on occasion.

Those plays are to be expected for any young quarterback. So far, coaches are encouraged by Mertz's progress.

"I think he's grasped the offense well," UW quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr said. "Everything we're asking him to digest, he's digested it well. Now it's just a matter of getting reps at it so that those windows become real and the timing becomes real.

"One thing is, he doesn't have to think too much when he throws. He's an accurate passer, and the ball goes where he wants it to go. And now it's just a matter of adjusting to some of the speed, some of the windows that get a little bit tighter at this level. Once he gets that, I think he'll grow even more comfortable."

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